Xander spread a stack of papers across his apartment floor, raking his fingers through his dark hair. The clock on the end table read 2:43 am, and the black sky outside was unflinching. His gaze jumped from mugshot to police report to crime scene photo.
He had snagged many of these pictures from the office of Rowan Kavinski, the police captain and his boss. They had clashed from the moment Rowan walked into the office, when Xander had identified that Rowan was a slob and a sloth. In fact, Rowan hadn't even noticed when Xander had started taking files out of the office to work on them at home. Working on cases at home had almost doubled his number of arrests, but this particular case consumed him. Ramirez del Costa, who had gone from low-level carjacker to the leader of a million-dollar gang, also happened to be a master at covering his tracks. Xander had never been able to catch him or convict him on any of the hundreds of cases in which he was a suspect
He rubbed his eyes for a few seconds and then returned his gaze to the spread of photos before standing up to take it in from a different angle. Something caught his eye in the corner, and his gaze flickered to pictures of security camera footage. He looked at the timestamp in the top right corner and scribbled it on a piece of notebook paper. His glance moved to the next one, which was taken exactly 6 days, 23 hours and 49 minutes later. The one after that was 7 days and 5 minutes after that one.
He stood up and started sifting through the manilla folders on the dining room table until he found the one labelled “Security Camera Footage”. He sorted out all the ones from that particular gas station, then wrote the time stamps on the paper. The pattern was without fail. Every Friday night, sometime between 11:30 and midnight, Ramirez del Costa visited a 7/11 a few blocks away from his home base.
Luckily for Xander, it was Thursday night, or early Friday morning by now. He had plenty of time to get a good rest and then format a plan to corner Ramirez there. Finally, he would have his vengeance.
The next evening, Xander loaded all the equipment he needed into his car and drove to the 7/11. He drove idle laps around the block, taking occasional detours so no one got suspicious. His car radio played quiet alternative music in the background, the bass-boosted remixes rattling his car.
He kept a careful eye on his watch; the clock in his car had broken long ago. At 11:26 sharp, he started circling back towards the gas station, where he parked in an unmarked spot outside of the security camera’s range and waited.
Not even 10 minutes had passed when a black SUV pulled into the parking lot, license plate cleverly concealed and windows illegally tinted. Predictably, it parked at the spot closest to the front door. Xander grabbed the binoculars he always kept in his glove compartment and checked to be sure it was Ramirez. The scar snaking down the left side of his face made Xander sure he was right. He had analyzed every frame of every picture he had available and memorized Ramirez’s rhythm. Ramirez would spend between 3 and 4 minutes inside. If he blacked out the camera a few seconds before Ramirez stepped outside, then kidnapped Ramirez and dragged him to his car, he could be done with his plan in a minute, tops.
He stepped out of his car, popped the trunk, and grabbed his rag and bottle of chloroform. He doused the rag in chloroform and tucked a knife and a length of industrial rope in his pocket before pulling his black baseball cap over his eyes. He made sure to change his walk from his usual purposeful stride to a confident swagger to ensure he wasn’t recognizable on video.
Xander leaned against the cool brick wall, scrolling on his locked phone to appear busy. All the while, he subtly scanned the parking lot; there were a few other cars, but no immediate witnesses, and no indication that anyone was approaching. He pulled a can of black spray-paint out of his cargo pants pocket and coated the camera thoroughly, then returned the cannister to his pocket.
He checked his watch. Ramirez had been inside for two minutes and forty-six seconds. He risked a glance inside and saw Ramirez walking his way, his face turned away as Ramirez checked behind him. What a fool. He knew to check his back but couldn’t see what was right in front of him.
Ramirez walked out, on the right side as Rowan had predicted, holding a bottle of Heineken in one hand and car keys in the other. Xander sprung into action, covering Ramirez’s nose with the chloroform rag and wrapping his other arm around Ramirez’s neck in a chokehold. Ramirez squirmed and elbowed, but Xander barely felt the pain through his euphoria. He had finally caught this bastard.
Xander wrestled Ramirez to the ground and bound his hands, then his feet, then gagged him. He pulled Ramirez upright and wrapped his arm around his waist before staggering to his car. He shoved Ramirez’s head and shoulders inside his trunk, then lifted his legs with a grunt and tucked them inside the trunk. It was a short ride to their final destination, where Xander would finally get what he had been waiting for since he had first discovered the extent of Ramirez’s crimes.
Once they arrived, Xander brought Ramirez in and tied him to a chair in the center of the room. He ungagged him and slapped him awake roughly. Ramirez snapped awake, blinking a few times before his beady eyes adjusted to the dim lighting. Xander clasped his hands behind his back and began to pace in an oval shape in front of Ramirez. He began to recite his rehearsed victory speech.
"Ramirez del Costa. We have a long history, even if you don't realize it. I've been chasing you since your carjacking days, when you barely knew how to hotwire a car and flew by the seat of your pants. I followed your journey from novice criminal to felony mastermind.
"In fact, I decided a few years ago that you had committed too many crimes for any judge to sentence you appropriately. When you were a petty criminal, I was perfectly happy to let a judge and jury determine your fate. But once you buried that bullet in Tommy Steelin – I remember his name and so should you – I knew that you had gone too far. I had to take the duty of executing justice into my own hands, or you would escape with a punishment far too light.
"I'm hoping that what I'm about to do will give you some inkling of regret for the pain you inflicted upon so many families. All the drugs and cars you smuggled, all the people who you killed to seal their lips, all of them have felt pain you could never fathom. But maybe this will give you an idea of what it's like to lose everything."
He reached for his gun and immediately realized it wasn’t in his pocket. He frantically patted himself up and down before remembering that he had left it buried under the passenger seat of his car. He cursed under his breath before regaining his composure and looking up at Ramirez. "If I were you, I would enjoy these next few seconds. They may be the last seconds you live without the barrel of a gun staring you down." He stalked out of the room, opening and closing the door quietly, and headed to his car to grab the gun.
He returned to see Rowan, standing with his pistol pointed at Ramirez.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Xander demanded, drawing his gun and pointing it at Rowan. "This was my catch! You don't get to swoop in at the last minute and take credit!"
"And how exactly do you plan to stop me?" Rowan sneered. "You've always made the same mistake. Gone so far and then stopped just short. You make it too easy for people like me."
"And people like you are never successful. You made it to the top through sheer luck and stealing the credit for cases you never could have solved with your pea-brain. Put your gun down and let me have this one, or so help me God, I will not rest until I have torn down everything you have ever built with my bare hands." Xander thought the veins in his temples would explode.
Rowan looked at Xander with a half-smile on his face, then raised the gun and pointed it at Ramirez. "I'd love to see you try, boy. I am out of your reach.” He turned his pointed stare to Ramirez before pulling the trigger. Ramirez’s eyes widened for a split second before the bullet landed deep in his chest.
Xander rushed to Ramirez and pressed his hands against the gunshot wound in a futile attempt to save Ramirez. Blood spilled out of his chest no matter how Xander repositioned his hands, and he eventually gave back and rocked back on his heels. He watched Ramirez die, far too quickly and far too painlessly. Everything salvageable from this moment had just been shattered into a million pieces.
Xander redirected his anger towards Rowan. "I was here first! He was mine!" He pointed his gun at Rowan. "I would have delivered justice so perfectly!”
"I guess we'll never know." Rowan tossed his cape over his shoulder and tucked his pistol back into his belt, leaving the room with a flourish and Xander floundering in his wake.